Edmonton Sun

July 20, 2002

They only want to see their grandkids

By MINDELLE JACOBS -- Edmonton Sun

Elizabeth would love to take her grandchildren to Klondike Days and watch them squeal with delight on the rides and smear their faces with candy floss.

She'd love to bake cookies for them, take them swimming, buy them little treats and shower them with hugs and kisses.

Elizabeth just wants to be a grandmother. But she's been shut out of the lives of her four grandchildren because their parents' relationship fell apart.

There are no crayon drawings on the fridge or recent pictures of the grandkids on the wall. The photos of the children - now ages six, 10, 13 and 14 - are years old.

"All we've been asking for is visiting rights for these kids, and we just can't get anywhere," sobs Elizabeth (not her real name).

Elizabeth, 70, and her 75-year-old husband used to see their grandchildren all the time.

But several years ago, their son's on-and-off relationship with his girlfriend disintegrated for good.

The mother got custody of the kids and eventually severed contact with the grandparents.

"For a while, we were welcome. All of a sudden, we weren't," says Elizabeth, who lives outside Edmonton.

Last year the kids' mother allowed Elizabeth to take the children to a local rodeo. This year she refused.

Elizabeth should have photo albums filled with memories of her grandchildren. Instead, she keeps a diary of disappointment - a painful log, in tiny handwriting, of missed opportunities to see the children.

Stapled to one page of the diary are tickets for last year's Shriners' circus. Elizabeth and her husband wanted to take the grandchildren. The kids' mother wouldn't let them go.

"They're all sweet, dear little kids," says Elizabeth, sniffling into a tissue at her dining room table. "If my mother knew what I was going through, she'd roll over in her grave."

Even provincial legislation that allows grandparents to apply for access to their grandchildren has not solved the problem.

Elizabeth went to court two years ago and won limited access to her grandchildren. For the most part, the children's mother has ignored the court order.

And Elizabeth is reluctant to return to court to get the police to enforce the access arrangement.

"I can't do that to these little guys," she says of her grandchildren. "They'll think we're playing cops and robbers."

Orphaned Grandparents Association, an advocacy group, receives several hundred calls a year from people with similar tales of woe.

"When they call, they're in varying stages of grieving," says group president Annette Bruce.

"It doesn't click in their brains that the relationship is dying or has been severed."

The disaffection between generations is growing, she adds.

"It appears that the middle generation doesn't believe that strongly in maintaining continuity in relationships," she says.

"These are power struggles. It's about power and control, and children are very good weapons."

The group holds monthly support meetings and educates its members on legal alternatives if access issues can't be resolved amicably.

Bruce says she understands why grandparents are loath to force the issue if they win access to grandchildren but are continually denied visitation.

"It scares the hell out of them. It's like anything else in life - the fear of the unknown."

But she hopes at least one grandparent who's been denied court-ordered access will have the courage to press for a contempt-of-court citation.

Elizabeth isn't brave enough. However, through a quirk of fate, she may get to see her beloved grandchildren.

The province has apprehended the kids because the mother is considered unfit.

Social Services officials are applying for guardianship next month.

It's not a happy situation but if the province wins, four kids will at least get to know their grandparents again.

Mindelle can be reached by e-mail at mjacobs@edm.sunpub.com.
Letters to the editor should be sent to letters@edm.sunpub.com.

Copyright © 2002, Canoe, a division of Netgraphe Inc.